More than a year ago, the Turaga ni Koro Samuela Naquto told me about the US soldiers that lived in Sabeto during WWII, leading me to ruins scattered all around the valley and mountainside and to Tai Vasu, who was six when the soldiers moved in. He pestered me for months to help him find the money to build memorials to the soldiers, and so I found a grant available on the US Embassy page, which looked rather underutilized.
They supported us in getting the grant – shoutout to Dmitri Tarakhovsky, especially. Though things were all months late, they got done. Come August 16th, 2016, we had three monuments built around Sabeto, two in the village and one at the hot springs. The fourth and final will be put up at Sabeto Christian Camp next week.
We had the Deputy Chief of Mission, or Charge D’Affairs (beats me why we use a French title) Doug Sonnek, RPCV Niue, come out to the opening. We invited a number of members of the press, but we had only Fiji Sun show up. I might write a short piece on it and get it published in the Sun or the Times if I don’t see anything in the next few days. It’s always a slow news day in Fiji, so I don’t feel like I’m taking up any space in the newspaper, which is mostly rugby news anyway.
I also had two fellow PCVs come out from Lautoka, Nene and Sunny, so it was nice to have some PC support.
The ceremony started off in the chiefly bure, Erenavula. We had a qalovi and matakarawa, as they presented their yaqona to request entry to the village and we presented them with a tabua. Not even sure who provided that, but I’m very grateful.
In my welcome speech, I recounted the global history that led up to this moment, including the aggression of the Japanese army, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, American response. I also noted that this camp was only for the white servicemen; that the camp for the black soldiers was in Naisoso, and they were not allowed the same access to entertainment, quality of living conditions or benefits upon returning home.
We had Tai Vasu speak of what it was like at the time, how the village was transformed, and the tents they lived in in Natalau. The charge d’affairs touched on general Fiji-US history. We had two songs, including Wai Katakata, about the hot springs, which includes this verse;
Sotia ni Merika era yaco mai (American soldiers came here)
Wai katakata e viri na kena bai (And threw up the fence around the springs)
Tovolea mada mo mai sili kina (Try it, you should bathe in it)
Kena katakata e rui totoka dina (It’s heat is truly too pleasant)
Afterwards, we went to the hot springs and opened the one there. Folks there built another covering and we repeated the sevusevu welcoming and ribbon-cutting.
It was really nice to see all the women and men come out and put so much work into this, really made me feel grateful to be here. I helped the men build the shed and chain fencing around the engraving at the lawn, and the women decorated the shed, made the beautiful covering for the engravings, and made tea for the guests.
The charge d’affairs made off like a bandit, though, it must be said. He was given a tabua, two mats and two masi clothes. People had told me that if he couldn’t take them they would give them to me, so I was really hoping he would be flying back, but my luck ended there.
It was given a write-up in the Fiji Sun newspaper, but riddled with errors :/. Read it here.